Skip to main content

Fire Safety

In the home

Smoke detectors have saved many lives by alerting residents to fires inside the home. Smoke detectors should be positioned on the wall or ceiling just outside each bedroom. If you have a multi-level home, install a detector on every floor. Sleep with your bedroom door closed, but make sure you can clearly hear the detector in the hall. If there is any doubt, or if you smoke, place an additional detector inside your bedroom. Be sure to test your smoke detectors monthly and replace batteries twice a year, perhaps when clocks are changed in the spring and fall.
Portable fire extinguishers save lives and property by putting out or containing small fires until the fire department arrives. It is most important to place fire extinguishers in your kitchen and garage.

Make sure that each member of your family can hold and operate your fire extinguishers and knows where they are located inside the home. Remember that fire extinguishers need to be maintained and must be recharged after every use.

Consider installing a home sprinkler system. Home sprinkler systems are one of the most reliable and effective ways to protect your home because they provide an immediate response to extinguish a fire. They also can extinguish a fire when you are asleep or when you are away from home.

Outside Your House

Your roof is the most vulnerable part of your house because it can easily catch fire from wind-blown sparks. It is highly recommended that you build or re-roof with fire resistive roofing materials. Also be sure to clear pine needles, leaves or other debris from your roof and gutters. And remove any dead branches overhanging your roof.

Remove any tree branches within 10 feet of your chimney. Cover your chimney outlet and stovepipe with a nonflammable screen of 112 inch or smaller mesh.

Build or remodel with fire resistive building materials, such as brick or stucco.

Enclose the undersides of balconies and aboveground decks with fire resistive materials
Limit the size and number of windows in your home that face large areas of vegetation. Even from a distance of 30 feet away, the heat from a wildfire is enough to ignite the furnishings inside your house. Install only dual-paned or triple-paned windows to reduce the potential of breakage in a fire.

Emergency Preparedness

Store at least a three-day supply of drinking water and food that does not require refrigeration and generally does not need cooking.

Store first aid supplies, portable radio, flashlight, emergency cooking equipment, portable lanterns and batteries.

Prepare a list of valuables to take with you in case of evacuation; if possible, store these valuables together to save time later.

Pre-plan an escape route from your home and neighborhood. Designate an emergency meeting place for the reunion of family members escaping in separate vehicles, and establish a contact point to communicate with concerned relatives.

Practice emergency exit drills regularly. Make sure that all family members are ready to protect themselves with STOP, DROP AND ROLL if their clothes should catch on fire.

Your Emergency Water Supply

Maintain an emergency water supply, that meets fire department standards, through one of the following:

  • a community water/hydrant system;
  • a cooperative emergency storage tank with neighbors;
  • a minimum storage supply of 2,500 gallons on your property.

Clearly mark all emergency water sources and maintain easy firefighter access to these water sources.

If your water comes from a well, consider an emergency generator to operate the pump during a power failure.

Your Yard

Create a "defensible space" by removing all dry grass, brush, and dead leaves at least 30 feet from your home. If you have a large property, reduce combustible fuels up to 100 feet from your home (fire safe Sonoma brochure available at our station). Replace native plants with ornamental landscaping plants that are fire resistive.

Space trees and shrubs at least 10 feet apart.

Reduce the number of trees in heavily wooded areas.

For trees taller than 18 feet, prune lower branches within six feet of the ground to keep ground fires from spreading into tree tops.

Stack firewood and scrap woodpiles at least 30 feet from any structure and clear away flammable vegetation that is within 10 feet of these woodpiles.

Locate LPG tanks (butane and propane) at least 30 feet from any structure and surround them with 10 feet of clearance.

Defensible space must be regularly maintained to be effective

Smoke Alarms Save Lives

The majority of fatal home fires happen at night when people are asleep. Contrary to popular belief, the smell of smoke may not wake a sleeping person. The poisonous gases and smoke produced by a fire can numb the senses and put you into a deeper sleep.

Inexpensive household smoke alarms sound an alarm, alerting you to a fire. By giving you time to escape, smoke alarms cut your risk of dying in a home fire nearly in half. Smoke alarms save so many lives that most states have laws requiring them in private homes.

Choosing an Alarm

Be sure that the smoke alarms you buy carry the label of an independent testing laboratory.
Several types of alarms are available. Some run on batteries, others on household current. Some detect smoke using an "ionization" sensor, others use a “photoelectric" detection system. All listed smoke alarms, regardless of type, will offer adequate protection provided they are installed and maintained properly.

False Alarms

Cooking vapors and steam sometimes set off a smoke alarm. To correct this, try moving the alarm away from the kitchen or bathroom, or install an exhaust fan. Cleaning your alarm regularly, according to manufacturer's instructions, may also help.

If "nuisance alarms" persist, do not disable the alarm. Replace it.


Most battery-powered smoke alarms and alarms that plug into wall outlets can be installed using only a drill and a screwdriver, by following the manufacturer's instructions. Plug-in alarms must have restraining devices so they cannot be unplugged by accident. Alarms can also be hard-wired into a building's electrical system. Hard-wired alarms should be installed by a qualified electrician. Never connect a smoke alarm to a circuit that can be turned off from a wall switch.


Only a functioning smoke alarm can protect you.

Never disable an alarm by "borrowing" its battery for another use.

Following manufacturer's instructions, test all your smoke alarms monthly and install new batteries at least once a year when you set the clocks back in the fall, for example - or when an alarm is "chirping" to indicate that the battery is low. Ten-year alarms using a 10-year lithium battery are now available.

Clean your smoke alarms using a dust brush without removing the alarm's cover.
Never paint a smoke alarm.

Smoke alarms don’t last forever. Replace any smoke alarm that is more than 10 years old.

Is One Enough?

Every home should have at least one smoke alarm outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement. The National Fire Alarm Code, published by NFPA, requires a smoke alarm in every sleeping room for new construction. On floors without bedrooms, alarms should be installed in or near living areas, such as dens, living rooms, or family rooms.

Be sure everyone sleeping in your home can hear your smoke alarm. If any residents are hearing impaired or sleep with bedroom doors closed, install additional alarms inside sleeping areas as well. There are special smoke alarms for the hearing impaired; these flash a light in addition to sounding an audible alarm.

For extra protection, NFPA suggests installing alarms in dining rooms, furnace rooms, utility rooms, and hallways. Smoke alarms are not recommended for kitchens, bathrooms, or garages where cooking fumes, steam' or exhaust fumes could set off false alarms - or for attics and other unheated spaces where humidity and temperature changes might affect a alarm’s operation.

Plan and Practice

Make sure everyone is familiar with the sound of the detectors’' alarms.

Plan escape routes. Know at least two way out of each room. Agree on a meeting place outside your home where all residents will gather after they escape. Practice your escape plan at least twice a year.

Remove obstructions from doors and windows needed for escape.

Make sure everyone in the household can unlock doors and windows quickly, even in the dark. Windows or doors with security bars should be equipped with quick-release devices and everyone in the household should know how to use them.

When an alarm sounds, leave immediately. Go directly to your meeting place and call the fire department from a neighbor's phone.

Once you're out, stay out. Never go back inside a burning building

Where to Install

Because smoke rises, mount alarms high on a wall or on the ceiling. Wall-mounted units should be mounted so that the top of the alarm is 4 to 12 inches (10 to 30 centimeters) from the ceiling. A ceiling mounted alarm should be attached at least 4 inches (10 centimeters) from the nearest wall.

In a room with a pitched ceiling, mount the alarm at or near the ceiling's highest point.
In stairways with no doors at the top or bottom, position smoke alarms anywhere in the path of smoke moving up the stairs. But always position smoke alarms at the bottom of closed stairways, such as those leading from the basement, because dead air trapped near the door at the top of a stairway could prevent smoke from reaching an alarm located at the top.
Don’t install a smoke alarm too near a window, door, or forced-air register where drafts could interfere with the alarm's operation.